About 20 Orwigsburg residents attended a borough Zoning Hearing board meeting on Monday evening to hear about a proposed solar array there.
Opinions varied on whether the Zoning Hearing board should allow a special exception to a zoning rule that would allow a large array of solar panels to be constructed on vacant land situated behind a row of properties that line W. Market St.
No official decision was reached by the board on Monday and it could take up to 45 days for members to render their verdict on the exception request.
Solar Farm Proposed in Orwigsburg
The Schuylkill County Tax Assessment office lists the property for the proposed solar panel array as Parcel 56-01-0012.002. It’s a 40-acre lot north of W. Market St.
The proposal to build the solar array comes from an Atlanta-based firm called Dimension Renewable Energy. It would operate as Orwigsburg CSG 1, LLC. That LLC has a signed agreement of sale with the current owner. Transfer of the property would take place pending approval of the project by Orwigsburg officials.
On Aug. 21, the permit application to construct the array on this property was initially denied and that forced the company wishing to build it to seek a Special Exception to the zoning that prevents solar energy projects such as this to be built in a residential area.
If it’s ultimately approved, the Orwigsburg project would be among the first in Pennsylvania for Dimension Renewable Energy, explained Nick Walsh, the vice president of development for the company. Others are in development in the state.
He explained that typically, a local, third-party company is contracted to maintain the property while Dimension monitors its performance remotely.
Details on Proposed Orwigsburg Solar Project Explained
Christian Watts, of Mid-Penn Engineering Corp., of Lewisburg, provided many of the details about the particulars on the project to the Zoning Hearing board and the curious Orwigsburg residents who attended the Monday gathering.
Neither Walsh or Watts could say exactly how many solar panels would be included in the project. However, Watts did say it would occupy about 15-20 acres of the 40-acre plot.
Watts said the panels are planned to be placed about 500 feet back from the closest neighboring property that lines W. Market St.
The solar array would feature only “fixed-tilt” panels on metal posts, meaning they don’t adjust to the changing sun position through the day. There’s no motorization of any of the panels.
Fencing will surround the property for security purposes. A stone-stabilized access road will connect with an existing drive in the neighborhood so a maintenance crew or emergency officials can get into the property.
Watts said maintenance on the property will be limited to about 3 times per year. He doesn’t expect to ask for any zoning variances for the project, especially as it relates to access road and stormwater management regulations already on the books in Orwigsburg.
The goal of the project is to generate the maximum allowable output of electricity, 3 megawatts. Dimension Renewable produces about 2,000 megawatts of electricity through all its projects.
Energy produced by this solar farm would be directed into the PPL Electric grid and there’s an access point that at the northern extreme of the property line that’s already owned by PPL, Watts said.
When the lifespan of the project is complete, the land could be reverted to its original state, he said.
Public Reaction Mixed on Solar Farm
Of the nearly 2 dozen residents who attended Monday’s hearing, it seemed opinions were mixed on the prospect of the solar array.
Some residents, especially neighbors to the currently vacant land, expressed concerns about stormwater management, which Watts seemed to explain to their satisfaction.
However, converting the land to a solar farm didn’t sit well with some. Others, however, welcome the project.
One of the main concerns is the land use. Some felt it might be better put to use, perhaps as a new housing development. Another property owner, in an unrelated matter, did explain to the Zoning Hearing board that Orwigsburg is facing a housing shortage.
Donna Vidzicki, a nearby property owner, told the board members to “calculate the tax revenue if you put homes in there.
“I think this will de-value the (existing) homes,” she said.
John Fisher, of Orwigsburg, echoed that sentiment and said, “I’d rather see homes in a residential area.”
Lori Sterner, another nearby property owner, disagreed and told the board she’s in favor of the solar project. She worried about noise from a new housing development vs. the relative quiet that would come from a solar array.
“We’d rather see solar panels back there than a housing development,” she said.
Another concern raised at the hearing was the fact that the panels will produce energy that’s fed directly to PPL Electric. Orwigsburg residents will not have an opportunity to purchase the energy directly.
Ken Smith, of Orwigsburg, wished that were different.
“As an Orwigsburg resident, the panel has to figure out how Orwigsburg benefits,” he said. “I want to see Orwigsburg benefit.”